Bruins win despite every reason to lose

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Bruins win despite every reason to lose

BOSTON In years past this might have been a game that the Bruins let slip right through their gloved fingers.

Playing their third game in four nights and their first back-to-back tilt of the hockey season at the tail end of November meant there were plenty of tired legs allalong the Boston bench.

That much was obvious when the Bruins cut morning skate short after a scant 15 minutes and instead hoped to focus their energies toward Saturday night. Its times exactlylike these when most people expected the Stanley Cup hangover issue to become a problem for a team that tapped deep into their energy reserve last spring.

Add in the fact the Bruins were coming off the sudden demise of their long 10-game winning streak at the hands of the Red Wings and the mediocre Winnipeg Jets were coming to town and it had all of the expectations of a hockey team putting out an effort equivalent to the sad trombone sound.

Coming off an always dramatic road game at the Bell Centre against the Habs, the revenge game in Buffalo for the Milan LucicRyan Miller flap of two weeks ago and a Thanksgiving Showdown with the Red Wings, Saturday night hockey against the Peg didnt exactly scream out big game. In factthe Jets -- even with their newfangled logo and Blake Wheeler managing to stay on-side all night --defined "small game" for the Bruins in every sense, and they'd always played down to that kind of competition in the past.

You know sometimes youre not going to always have great legs, said Zdeno Chara. Its the season, its the schedule. You are not always going to feel great. But the bottom line is if you dont have your legs you have to move the puck. Thats what we were focusing onmoving the puck.

All of those factors wrapped into one would have combined for a lackluster result over the last few seasons with these Bruins, but theyve learned their lessons well. The Stanley Cup champions netted their 11th win in the last 12 games with a solid, gritty 4-2 victory over Winnipeg at the Garden on Saturday night.

Things didnt look good early when Joe Corvo failed to get back on defense quickly enough, and left Dennis Seidenberg hanging on a 2-on-1 converted by Evander Kane in one of his game-high nine shots on net. Then Dustin Byfuglien took advantage of a play misread by David Krejci, and fired a puck from the right point to make it a quick two goal lead for Winnipeg.

But the Bruins managed to snare their 14th win of the season despite falling behind early by two goals when it appeared their skating legs had already hit Faneuil Hall for the evening.

It was our third game in four days. We definitely wanted to keep our intensity alive. We have been solid this month so far, said Daniel Paille, who set up the game-tying goal in the second period with some dogged penalty kill work. I dont think we want to let that go. I think we all felt good about it. I think we realized that we can do a lot more. Winnipeg came out ready for us and once we were settled we played a lot better.

It was appropriate that there were third and fourth line heroes all over the ice for the Bruins in a game where they needed a little of that extra something. Chris Kelly is the picture of hustle, smarts and honest-to-goodness effort, and he showed all three while unveiling a little skill too with a pair of second period goals that represented the game-tier and the game-winner.

The first was set up by Paille doing yeomans work on the penalty kill, and was a glorified tap-in after Kelly hustled toward the front of the net after Rich Peverley drove through most of the Jets' skaters toward the net. The second was another third line hustle play with Benoit Pouliot screaming into the offensive blue line to corral a loose puck, and then firing a cross-ice pass to Kelly for a one-timer that eluded Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

It is all kinds of perfect that the Bruins have proven to be unbeatable when theyre getting contributions from the bottom six forwards, and the Bs are now 7-0-0 on the season when Kelly lights the lamp.

But thats what needs to happen on those nights when there is no crispness or snap to Bostons game. Claude Julien took a rare early game timeout when the Bruins dropped down by two goals in the first period, the unsung offensive players produced and the Bruins found a way to win one of those games that didnt have the weightiness of some of their recent tilts.

I think that's one of our strengths is we have four lines that are consistent, all can contribute offensively and all can play defense, said Kelly. I think you can have every line out there if, last minute up by a goal and all the guys are going to get the job done. I don't know any other team that can do that.

The maddening inconsistencies of the Bruins were always part of the team package prior to winning the Cup, and it was assumed they would still be there after hoisting Lord Stanley over their head.

But the Bruins have gone about proving theyre a different team after their gloriousencounter with the Cup, and Saturday night was another shining example of just how far they've come as a hockey group.

Tuesday, Aug. 23: What about NHLers in Olympics?

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Tuesday, Aug. 23: What about NHLers in Olympics?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating all the birthday wishes I got yesterday while turning 42 years old.

*With the World Cup of Hockey around the corner, there is still a decision pending on NHL players participating in the Olympics.

*With the Winnipeg Jets and Jacob Trouba still unable to agree on a contract extension, some are wondering about comparable contracts for the young D-man.

*In the strict interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Pete Sheppard and Jimmy Murphy on the Bruins from Monday afternoon.

*Marek Zidlicky is still a free agent option for teams seeking a cheap solution on their back end.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has the Ottawa Senators and Cody Ceci agreeing on a two-year contract extension after a summer without a deal.

*The Minnesota Wild do the right thing and officially change their goal song to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” for next season.

*For something completely different: there will be a "Hamilton" documentary and the question will be whether I see that before I see the actual play.

 

Five best available free agents left for the Bruins

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Five best available free agents left for the Bruins

Click here for the gallery. 

The reality for the Bruins is that the Jimmy Vesey has signed with the New York Rangers and an entire menu of options for roster moves has been taken away from Boston with him choosing the Blueshirts over the Black and Gold.

Signing Vesey would have been like found money for the B’s, but losing out on him does still leave Don Sweeney with a couple of holes on the roster with training camp a few weeks away. The smart money says the Bruins attempt to fill those holes with young players stepping up in camp and that a move to bring in more veterans will only be out of desperation once the season gets going.

Still, there are still some free-agent options out there for the Bruins, so here are the five best potential fits for the Bruins should Sweeney opt to go the quick-fix route with the leftovers still kicking around. 

 

1)  Jiri Hudler 

Sure the 32-year-old Hudler really struggled in the playoffs for the Florida Panthers last spring, but he still posted 16 goals and 46 points in a “down” season for the Flames and Panthers. He’s only two years removed from 31 goals and 76 points for the Flames and seems a lock for 15-20 goals provided he can remain healthy for whomever he ends up playing for next season. If the Bruins had Vesey slotted in for a top-six role with David Krejci, they will most certainly have young players Frank Vatrano and Danton Heinen lined up for long looks in training camp after Vesey signed with New York. But Hudler has the kind of experience and offensive ability that could play well with a playmaking force like Krejci if they wanted to get an experienced hand for a top-6 role. After all it could be a tough spot for Krejci if he’s got younger players on both sides of him with David Pastrnak already lining up for the right hand side, and essentially a rookie on the left side in either Vatrano or Heinen. Hudler could be a very cheap option at left wing for a low, low price given that he hasn’t signed as a free agent with anybody this late into August. The bottom line is that the Bruins got 30-plus goals and 60-plus points from a guy in Loui Eriksson that played in that spot last season and they need to find somebody that can give at least a solid fraction of that production with the Swede now in Vancouver. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Absolutely, this would be something to consider strongly even if Sweeney and Co. would rather see Vatrano or Heinen develop into the answer this season.

 

2) Kris Russell 

The Bruins had explored things with Russell a bit back in July and the price should be way down on this D-man after he turned down a long term deal with the Maple Leafs after July 1. Unfortunately for Russell, it looks like he’s going to be this year’s Cody Franson as the D-man left scrapping for a shorter-term, smaller-money deal than he thought he’d be getting as a free agent. That’s a byproduct of the 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame for Russell. He’s another player that struggled with his new Dallas team after being traded from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. For the Bruins purposes, they’ve already got a couple of small-ish left-shot defensemen in Torey Krug and John-Michael Liles. So, signing on another left-shot defenseman in Russell would seem redundant, but Russell has also been a “no doubt” top-four defenseman for the past four seasons that hasn’t averaged fewer than 22:58 of ice time in any season over the past four years with the Flames. That’s the kind of minutes horse that the Bruins could use on their back end and certainly Russell is more adept at moving pucks than Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. It’s hard to ignore the combined 63 points Russell put up for from 2013-15 and now the B’s could get him at a much cheaper price at the end of the summer. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Only if they move out a defenseman currently signed to a contract and only if Russell is willing to take a short-term deal like the one Franson signed in Buffalo last summer.

 

3)  Jacob Trouba 

The 22-year-old restricted free agent still hasn’t signed with the Winnipeg Jets and by all accounts the Jets are far apart on term, money and Trouba’s role on the team with Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers both in front of him on the depth chart. It’s getting to the point where Winnipeg needs to consider trading Trouba if it’s going to be too difficult to sign him, and keep him, in Winnipeg. The Bruins were preparing an offer sheet for Trouba at the start of free agency, but backed off given some of the negative ramifications, and the potential cost for the player, involved with an offer sheet. He’s young at 22, he’s big at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, and he was a lottery pick back in 2012, so the potential is there for him to be exactly what the Bruins need as a right-shot, top-four defenseman. He’s the best option for the B’s if they could somehow be the team standing and waiting for Trouba should Kevin Cheveldayoff decide to cast him off, or should they really go bold and finally drop the offer sheet they’d prepared. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? If they’re going to actually act on a free agent, this should be the one whether it’s through an offer sheet or trade. The sense is the Bruins aren’t going the offer sheet route, so they’ll simply have to wait and hope Winnipeg decides to move him. Trouba is still their best option by a safe margin, but it feels like they needed to act back in July if they really wanted him in a Bruins sweater.

 

4)  Brandon Pirri 

The 25-year-old Pirri scored 22 goals in 49 games for the Panthers just two years ago, and remains unsigned after posting a decent 14 goals and 29 points in 61 games for the Panthers and Anaheim Ducks last season. Pirri has scored 49 goals over the past three seasons with the Blackhawks, Panthers and Ducks, so he can put the puck in the net while not being afraid to shoot it in the least. Like the rest of the free agents at this point, Pirri won’t be expensive or a big commitment in terms of contract. He’s a lefty shooter and a natural center by trade, but yet another forward that could be flexible for the Bruins if they wanted to try him on the wing as a veteran option. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Possibly a PTO candidate, but it makes more sense for the Bruins to give Vatrano or Heinen a chance rather than signing Pirri to an NHL contract this late in the game. Presumably, the B’s can get at least that level of production from Vatrano, if not more, entering his first full NHL season in Boston with a lot of untapped goal-scoring ability. Hudler on the cheap is one thing, but the Bruins should probably pass on Pirri at this point.

 

5)  Marek Zidlicky 

He’s 39 years old and he’s coming off a down season with some injuries and an off performance for the Islanders, but it might be worth it for the Bruins to see if there’s anything left in the 12-year veteran’s tank on a PTO-type situation. The four goals and 16 points were decent enough for the Isles last season, but Zidlicky saw his ice time drop to a career-low 15:35 per game last season as he was shifted out of a top-four role. Only two years ago, Zidlicky posted four goals and 23 points while averaging 21:56 of ice time for the Devils while featuring his big, booming point shot and logging heavy minutes in all situations for New Jersey. He’s a right shot, and he’s sturdy enough at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds. Considering that Zidlicky is still looking for work in late August, this could be the kind of “buy low” option that could pay some nice short-term dividends for the Bruins as they wait for their younger options to mature into NHL players. What do the Bruins have to lose at this point with a B’s back end that still needs a lot of improvement while bringing back the same crew as last season?  

Should the Bruins kick the tires? If they can sign Zidlicky to a PTO and bring him into camp, there is literally no downside to a player that could fill a big hole for them if he can bounce back from a tough year in Brooklyn.